Scottish applique map

On the 18th September 2014, the people of Scotland will vote on whether to become an independent nation or to remain part of the United Kingdom. I spoke to a number of independent designer-makers, and Made From Scotland – an online marketplace for contemporary Scottish design, about what independence means for them.

Scottish born and bred, or ‘incomers’, they all value the inspiration, resources and sense of community in Scotland.

Sam Kilday of Juniper & Jane says, “We have worked in, lived in, holidayed in, or passed through every corner of Scotland. We’ve been wind-swept, sun-burnt, rain-soaked and midge-bitten, sometimes all in one day! There are still hundreds of islands to explore, mountains to conquer, and beaches to adore – I think it’s fair to say that Scotland, from its fiercest to its fairest, inspires us.”

Glasgow girl born and bred, and graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, Gillian Kyle says, “For the last five years, my work has been a celebration of Scottish culture, pride and personality. So much of the humour, warmth, and creativity of Glasgow rubs off on you – we don’t take ourselves too seriously up here and that really influences my style.”

While Yoke founder Mark McConnell says, “I have a great print studio near me – it’s accessible, affordable and has great facilities. I wouldn’t have been able to launch my business without it. And the creative community is so much smaller here – people from different disciplines come together, work together and feed off each other.”

Fay Gourley CEO of Made from Scotland says, “Scottish designer-makers have great support from the likes of Creative Scotland, Creative Enterprise and Craft Scotland because the creative industries are recognised as an important part of our economy.”

But the distance from London can be barrier. Many felt a change in currency would only exacerbate this problem.

Kirsty Thomas who runs Lovely Pigeon from a former fisherman’s net loft in rural Scotland, says, “The design industry in the UK is very London-centric and it is important that we are as visible as possible, so we do travel a lot to be make sure we’re at events, meeting customers and stockists. Scotland is a small country with only a handful of cities and therefore only a handful of design stores that are right for our product. By comparison, there are a lot of design stores in the rest of the UK and specifically in London.
“If Scotland keeps the pound, trade with the rest of the UK should not be significantly affected. However, a change of currency would create new costs, extra admin and a less seamless process for trading with the rest of the UK, which could seriously affect our business.”

Gillian Kyle, says, “I think it’s such a shame that so many graduates move to London to work. It feels like the brightest and best gravitate towards the capital, which must be disastrous for economic prosperity in Scotland. Almost all of the graduates in my art school class, who are working in the job they trained for, are doing so in London.”
With inspiring surroundings, great resources and a supportive creative community offset by being part of an industry whose centre is 400 miles away, it’s no surprise that opinion about which way to vote on independence remains divided.
Slovakian-born Zuzanna Orwell and Irish Bronagh Goode, aka printmakers Orwell and Goode, have lived in Scotland for more than 10 years. They have opposite opinions despite working together. Bronagh says, “I am still on the fence – with two legs dangling into the ‘yes’ side! Of course it’s a worry for businesses not to know which currency they might be using, how taxes might change, and what the effects of that might be. But if we can produce a higher revenue of tax per capita, with increased investment into developing businesses and industries, it could be worth the gamble.” While Zuzana says, “I am definitely on the ‘no’ side. We might find ourselves exporting to a diminished UK and finding our products are either too cheap or too expensive depending on the strength of the Scottish currency. It just seems like a very uncertain future.

Gillian Kyle says, “Like most small business owners, I have concerns about the short-term future. But I do believe that independence gives us the best chance of economic stability and prosperity in Scotland. I see an independent Scottish government as having the will, the nerve and the flexibility to bring about meaningful change, and to develop economic policies tailored to creating wealth in Scotland, not just the South East.”

Yoke’s Mark McConnell says, “I haven’t decided which way to vote, but I am leaning towards ‘no’ because I do believe we are ‘stronger together,’ to reluctantly quote the opposition’s campaign. It is hard to tell how independence would affect us as a nation, me as an individual or Yoke as a business, but I don’t think much will change when it comes to London being the design centre of the UK. You absolutely can live in Scotland and have a thriving independent design business; it just takes a little more hard work.”

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Further reading for the especially geeky:

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This article was originally commissioned by the D&AD and will also appear on their Inspiration site in due course.